New York and New Jersey officials who have battled for years over replacement of the rundown, overcrowded Port Authority Bus Terminal are expressing support for a new proposal to construct two floors atop the current Times Square site before rebuilding the existing space.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey included the build-in-place option last week as one of several to undergo a yearlong environmental-impact review, after Steve Plate, the agency's chief of major capital projects, said it was "potentially viable from a construction and operational perspective."
"It first sounded counter-intuitive that you could keep operating during construction, but it's been proven to be feasible," said New Jersey Senator Loretta Weinberg, a Teaneck Democrat. "If it turns out to be the most viable alternative, we'll have no problem getting behind it."
For years, New York and New Jersey have had a rancorous debate over where to situate and how much to spend on a new bus terminal. Built in 1950, the depot was at capacity by 1966. It's now the world's busiest bus depot, serving 232,000 customers daily, and the Port Authority expects users to increase 40 percent by 2040.
By building in place, the authority could expand capacity faster than if it were to construct a new facility. The terminal would remain convenient to commuters, situated above connections to 12 subway lines, instead of moving it west to Ninth Avenue as some proposals suggest. It would also avoid neighbors' complaints and the expense, potential litigation and delay that would ensue if the agency used eminent domain to seize more than 160 properties to create a new facility nearby.
One proposal was to remove it from New York altogether with a terminal in Secaucus, New Jersey, from which commuters could take a Manhattan-bound train. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo balked at the financing and saw New Jersey as its main beneficiary.
In March, the Port Authority approved a capital budget that included $3.5 billion for a new terminal. Agency officials say the bus station will eventually cost about $10 billion, with completion expected in 2026.
Since then, the agency has received a new chairman from New Jersey and new executive director from New York, and several new commissioners. They all agree on the need for a new bus terminal.
Another option proposed by the Regional Planning Association, an influential research group on land-use policy, would ease the burden on the existing terminal by diverting intercity Greyhound and Trailways buses to a spot near the Javits Convention Center about six blocks south. This other station, which is served by a subway line, could also serve commuters to the Hudson Yards mixed-use development, said Thomas Wright, the association's president.
"Both alternatives must be studied side-by-side to see what their benefits and costs are, including cost, length of construction time, disruptions from construction and capacity," Wright said.
The current facility's inadequacy results in traffic spilling on to already congested midtown Manhattan streets, commuter delays, and deteriorating air quality from bus exhaust. In addition, the terminal was not built for more modern buses that are taller, longer and heavier, and its ramps and floor slabs need to be replaced within the next 25 years, according to Port Authority engineers.
Attempts to spruce up the building with renovated bathrooms and new retail and eateries hasn't materially changed the depot's ambiance, which comedian John Oliver described in 2014 as "the single worst place on planet Earth."
The build-in-place plan would construct a new building from the top down, as was done at Philadelphia's Children's Hospital. The terminal would continue to operate while a fifth and sixth floor are added to expand capacity, and then the existing four floors would be rebuilt one by one, Plate said during the Sept. 28 board meeting.
"It doesn't expand the footprint, so it doesn't uproot people and cause an upheaval in the neighborhood," said Weinberg, who has advocated for a new Manhattan bus station for years. "It feels a lot less adversarial than in the past."
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